January 14, 2004 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Kentucky is mirroring a national trend of decreasing numbers of dairy herds. Dairy operations in Kentucky declined by as much as 31 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Nationally, dairy operations were down by 26 percent during the same time period.

“While total herd numbers did decline, the United States experienced an increase in the numbers of herds with 200 or more head,” said Jack McAllister, Extension dairy specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. 

McAllister said the greatest proportional loss of herds was in those with less than 49 cows, which declined 71 percent in Kentucky, compared to 66 percent for the United States as a whole.

“The loss of herds under 200 head is primarily responsible for the change in total milking cow inventory from 1997 to 2002,” he said. “We estimate the number of milking cows in Kentucky dropped from 148,000 to 122,000, which is an 18 percent drop. Cow numbers in the U.S. only declined by 1.2 percent.”

With smaller herds and fewer dairy operations, Kentucky’s dairy industry is producing less milk. McAllister said total milk production in Kentucky from 1997 to 2002 dropped 11 percent. Nationally, the drop was about 9 percent.

One good thing from these statistics is that Kentucky cows are producing more milk per head – almost 100 pounds more per cow, per year. 

“Nationally, milk production per cow has increased by about 10 percent,” McAllister said. “In Kentucky, milk production per cow is up almost 100 pounds from 12,264 pounds per cow in 1997 to 13,230 pounds per cow in 2002. This represents an 8 percent increase.”

The proportion of Kentucky’s dairy herds also is changing based on size. The largest proportion of herds in Kentucky in 2002 had 50 to 99 head, which represents 39 percent of Kentucky dairy herds. Herds of 100 to 199 head represented 27 percent and herds of 200 to 499 head comprised 11 percent. McAllister said herds in Kentucky greater than 100 head made up 40.5 percent of all herds in 2002 but only 35 percent in 1997.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Jack McAllister 859-257-7540